Mexican is pretty much the only world cuisine that New York can’t seem to provide in anything approaching a reasonable number of restaurants. Sure, we have the American-Mexican and the Tex-Mex, not to mention more Southwestern-style kitchens, but true Mexican?
Yes, this was taken this morning, after Snowpocalypse 2010
Mexico’s PR is trying to change that, and this recent Monday night, I partook in A Toast to Mexico at Maya, an Upper East Side restaurant that prides itself on authentic Mexican cuisine. Far too often, Mexican is associated with generic tacos and burritos, and this event was a way to showcase what can truly transcend such basic cuisine — in fact, the event celebrated UNESCO’s recognition of Mexican cuisine as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage”.
Naturally, as the resident beverage consultant, I had to start off with a classic margarita. The tequila was far from skimpy, and the taste and burn from that combined with a lot of lime (plus sugar on the rim) made a very tasty cocktail. My appetite thusly awoken, I sat at a well-lit table with other food writers and PR people for conversation and four courses.
Our first dish, Para Comenzar: the Huarache de Wagyu. Yep, thin strips of Wagyu beef, with a black bean base, caramelized onion, manchego cheese, and chile toreado. Presentation was pretty, and with the greens sprinkled on top it kind of reminded me of a tended garden.
Of course you can’t go wrong with such tender, medium-rare beef, and the sweetness of the onion played off the chocolate-like beans. The meat was still the star here, and I forked my way through this dish just enjoying every bite. However, I wish the cheese and chile flavors would have registered; the manchego barely peeked out from under the onions without any contribution to the dish, and the chiles never seemed to materialize even the slightest.
Next up, para Entrada, my nemesis the scallop. Specifically, Callo de Hacha a la Plancha, a seared scallop with achiote truffle sauce, poblano rajas, and a leaf of fried epazote on top. In what would not be a shock to people who know me, I’ve had possibly two scallops total in my life.
This one, however, made me wonder why that is so — understanding full well that the chef has a fairly small window to work with on scallop cook times, the texture of this one was considered perfect by my tablemates as well as by me. Dense, not chewy at all, this scallop could get me to try scallops more often. Sauces patterned the plate, in the colors of Mexico (a nice touch), and added a little spice and a little sweetness in alternating bites, distracting me from the boringness of the mushrooms. The red hot sauce complemented the spicy peppers, and overall, this was a win, to be sure.
In between, my glass and others were refilled by a Malbec of Argentinian origin (go figure). Definitely not plonk, the wine was bold and spicy enough to handle the sauces and beef we were being served, but did not at all take to the scallop, so I abandoned that pairing after one bite.
The main event (Plato Fuerte): Carne Asada. Grilled beef tenderloin, white bean puree, asparagus and wild mushroom escaveche. They do like their mushrooms in the kitchen here.
The beef was as tender as the wagyu in the first course, with a bit of char. The white bean puree lent a sweet, grainy texture to the dish, plus the onions and the spiciness that wasn’t specified, but really tasted like English hot mustard. So sinus-clearingly spicy. Oh, and asparagus in any dish makes me happy. It’s probably my favorite green vegetable, as I love the bitterness and chlorophyllic goodness.
If you decide during the meal that one beef dish is enough, the chef graciously served a vegetarian option that consisted of two rolled tortillas around cheese, drenched in an herbed sauce. I freely admit I didn’t really care about this dish as I was busily devouring red meat and, well, poking fun at the vegetarians.
And for dessert (Postre), two churros laced with chocolate sauce, a dollop of cranberry ice cream (not pictured), and a pot of dulce de leche. What can I say? The table went bonkers for this, and who can resist dulce de leche? This was a healthy dollop, and the churros had to beat, say, Jack in the Box. I was almost as enamored of this dessert as the dishes presented. The cranberry ice cream was, well, cranberry, certainly. The star was definitely the dulce de leche, though. It’s not really a lot of work, but it is if you want to serve an excellent version. Smoky caramel flavor topped with a rich chocolate flavor? How do you go wrong with that, alongside well-made churros, only lightly oily and so light they melt in your mouth?
In addition to the food, and the speeches by the tourism folks, we were also serenaded by a Mexican chanteuse singing classic Mexican songs. In all, this was a very memorable evening, and I’m thrilled that I was able to be guided through a special Maya menu. I’ll be back for a less-high-profile dinner soon to reinforce the high quality of the dishes prepared for us.
Please note that the food and drink were courtesy of Maya and their PR firm. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor was I obliged in any way to post about the food and drink, positively or otherwise. This is my own opinion and I feel it was unbiased; you are free to take from this what you will.